John Moran (above) went from an overweight high schooler to Division I athlete and now rotation member at Drexel. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Early last Friday afternoon, John Moran was relaxing at his parents’ home in Phoenixville, Pa.
By that night, he was in Monmouth, N.J., suiting up for Drexel as the Dragons took on the Hawks. And he wasn’t just a bench ornament, either -- Moran played a total of 23 minutes between that game and one against Rutgers on Sunday.
It was a whirlwind of a weekend for the graduate student, who had been waiting to hear on an eligibility waiver from the NCAA after getting his degree at Richmond in the spring. And he handled it well, no indication that Friday morning was spent getting shots up at his local YMCA while the Dragons went through their walkaround.
Then again, considering where he was five years ago, he’d happily go through that craziness over and over again if it meant continuing to play the sport he loved.
“Every game I go into, I’m looking back at my journey and really appreciating wow, I’m here, I’m playing college basketball at a competitive level,” he said, “I couldn’t be happier.”
The sheer improbability that is Moran’s path to Division I basketball began several years ago.
As a senior at Malvern Prep in 2011, playing for head coach Jim Rullo, Moran didn’t exactly look like a Division I basketball player.
“I was about 5-foot-10 and pushing 200 pounds,” he said. “And not a good 200.”
That year, as a deep reserve on the Friars, he scored a grand total of eight points. That was at least an improvement over his junior year, when he didn’t even go try for the team.
It was a tough pill to swallow, for a kid who in middle school had been on the same AAU team as future Division I stars (and beyond) Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Kentucky), Trevor Cooney (Syracuse), Jaylen Bond (Texas/Temple), Juan’ya Green (Niagara/Hofstra) and more, though he spent the majority of those games watching from the end of the bench. While they were all bound for college scholarships, his hoops career looked over.
But he knew there was still potential in him, and most importantly in his body.
“My dad’s about 6-2, my mom’s about 5-10, so there’s some height there,” Moran said. “My grandfather’s 6-3, I have a cousin who’s 6-7. There’s definitely some height in the family -- we knew it was coming, it was just a matter of when.”
So he decided to take a prep year at the Hill School in Pottstown, delaying college for a year to see what would happen, if those genetics would finally kick in.
It was a gamble on himself that paid off.
A growth spurt that summer brought his height over 6-foot, and he began to work on his conditioning and athleticism. And while he had a solid season at the Hill that year, his only basketball interest was a late run by D-III Haverford College.
Instead, he opted to go to school at the University of Richmond, from where both of his parents had matriculated, and become a manager for Chris Mooney’s Spiders.
Except after two months of being a manager, he had a feeling he could do a little bit more. By that point he was up to 6-3 and down to 165 pounds, in easily the best shape of his life. And those skills he’d polished as a young player were able to come through. So he went to the coaching staff, and asked for a tryout.
“They put me through a couple of workouts, played scrimmages with them and got on the team,” he said. “And just kind of every year, I just kept getting better and better and better.”
That freshman season, Moran played a total of three minutes across two games, with one singular offensive rebound against UNC-Wilmington in November his only impact on the stat sheet. He also got into two games (for two minutes) as a sophomore and then three (for five minutes) as a junior, picking up his first collegiate assist in a game against High Point.
Things changed considerably as a senior, when he played in a total of 13 games for a total of 49 minutes, scoring a total of 21 points. Eighteen of those came in the final three games of the season, as he scored nine each against George Mason and Dayton, both times on a trio of 3-pointers.
Soon after that season-ending loss to Dayton in the Atlantic 10 tournament, Moran realized that didn’t have to be the end of his playing career.
The majority of his sophomore season was spent dealing with an injury, and so he could apply for a medical redshirt and a potential fifth year. The Drexel staff was willing to give it a go, so they applied and waited, while Moran -- who graduated with a finance degree -- spent the summer interning with DDJ Capital Management, an investment firm just outside of Boston.
And they waited. And waited.
The NCAA asked for more information, and Moran responded in kind. They asked again, and more information was sent. With the season creeping closer and closer, he was hopeful that an answer was near.
Just potentially not as near as it actually happened.
“The coaching staff and myself were kind of thinking that maybe by Monday, they’d come to a conclusion,” Moran said on Sunday. “I was not expecting Friday mid-afternoon.”
But that’s when the decision came down, giving Moran and his mother just enough time to get down to Drexel from Phoenixville, pick up his gear and drive up to the Jersey Shore. He walked into the gym at 4:30 pm, and by 7:15 he was getting his first minutes in a Drexel uniform, making his debut on the same night as new Dragons head coach Zach Spiker.
Against Monmouth, Moran scored five points in a career-high 16 minutes, serving as the backup point guard to freshman Kurk Lee, Jr. Foul issues against Rutgers on Sunday limited him to seven minutes, but it’s clear that Moran has carved his way into a legitimate role with a Division I basketball program.
It’s a role he accepts more than happily.
“I just wanted to help with the transition,” he said. “I’m a good glue guy, I know I’m a good leader, locker room guy, but I also know I can do some things on the court. So whatever that may be, whether it’s coming off the bench, sparking some offense, running the offense or hopefully in the future, if I keep working, getting more and more of an opportunity.”
Not bad for a former manager.
“I doubt that many people have the story that I’ve had, and I’m really privileged and I’ve got to thank the coaches for giving me this opportunity, both at Richmond and at Drexel,” Moran added. “My parents have all supported me with this, and it’s been a great journey.
“I feel like at some point in the future I might need to write a book.”
Who’s to tell him no?